|A political cautionary tale|
While it certainly isn't obvious that the Republican Party's only problem with Hispanics is their position on immigration, it is also true that any moderation of their most extreme views would help them expand their base of voters. But therein lies the real problem. Much of the Republican base, particularly in the South, has shown themselves to be driven by bigotry, racial hatred, nativism and tribal resentment. The loudest voices in the conservative movement tend to be the most hate-filled, and repeatedly say offensive and ugly things in public venues.
Now that the immigration debate will once again occupy the network news, front pages, magazines and cable tv, led by the odious Fox News, those voices will once again rise in unison, shrieking messages of hatred, divisiveness and intolerance. In the end, it won't really matter if some watered down immigration reform bill eventually passes - what started out as a political outreach effort will end by setting back the Republican brand among Hispanic Americans by another ten years.
See, the thing is, by definition, voting is limited to American citizens. They have varying levels of empathy for immigrants, both legal and illegal, and varying public policy preferences. But the Hispanic-American citizens very much tend to be part of Mitt Romney's '47%', poor, uninsured, incarcerated, high-school dropouts. They are disproportionately at the bottom of the socio-economic scale, and so, like their fellow fortyseven percenters, the ideology and policy goals of the Republican party, even without the bigotry and nativism, aren't going to resonate with that community. What difference will it make to a family from El Salvador if they are devout Catholics who are pro-life if they are unemployed and their children are sick? Which message is going to earn their support - "you're on your own" or "government has a role in helping you to succeed"?
So, once again, the Republicans find themselves in a self-inflicted lose-lose debate. Any support for legalizing the immigrants already in the US, for anything that might lead to citizenship for them, for any kind of moderating policy, even one as common sense as a Guest Worker Program will bring out the worst of the Republican messages on race and ethnicity, from Rush Limbaugh to Michelle Malkin to Tom Tancredo. And those messages of hatred and intolerance will poison the well for immigration reform yet again. And even if some cobbled-together coalition of Democrats trying to fix a broken system and Republicans trying to fix a broken party is ultimately able to pass something, it won't change the basic political and economic calculation, and Hispanics will continue to support the party that is obviously working to help them, not imprison and deport them.